Thursday, August 31, 2006

Be the Fish

I was recently at a conference in San Francisco and heard a speech by Joe Costello at the Design Automation Conference. Now you're asking where am I going here? Well let me tell you about the speech and try and make some connection to both coaching and playing ultimate.

Pictured Above: Kirk Nylen laying out in the snow at Snowplate 2006 up in Sudbury, ON (taken from Arthur Tateishi Photography).

Joe Costello was a CEO at a major EDA company, and he was relating much of his success to marketing. One of his key concepts for marketing was everyone in the company needs to "think like the fish". His point is that everyone in a company (including the engineers not just the marketers) needs to think about the customers that they're targeting with a product.

I really liked the concept and started questioning if the concept had any application to Ultimate or coaching, and this is what I've come up with so far.

From the players perspective, "be the fish" applies to thinking about the opponents. In preparation for games, it's a great exercise to think about both your offense and defense as products your providing to your opponent. Your opponent has expectations for what you will do, and if they've played against you previously they have a reasonable idea of what you do. Understand this, and make sure you come up with some surprises/adjustments.

As a coach, the fish are both your opponents and your own players. We need to consider the opponents as a team and try and figure out how they plan to attack and defend against your team. Scouting knowledge, though possibly limited, exists for your team, so you need to guess what that info is, and how is a team going to respond to this. An educated guesser would use previous ways teams have played you as a good lead. Can you make preemptive guesses on what the opponent will do and get them off their plan?

Next, as a coach you need to consider the people you're coaching. The most important part is as the coach you need to get into their heads to understand what level they're at and how your coaching is giving them what they need. Wikipedia's definition for a coach is, "A coach is a person who teaches and directs another person via encouragement and advice." Using the fish concept will help dealing with how good your direction is.

All of this sounds like empathy, but "be the fish" sounds more ultimate. Now that just makes sense.